Criticism: The Nome de Plume of Patriotism

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by Joshua L. Durkin

ONE NEW INNOVATION in the direction of a better democracy puts people in direct contact with the White House through a petition program called “We the People”.

Since its September 22, 2011 launch, the petition program has gone largely unnoticed, which should shock no one, because the smart bet figures that most Americans have not checked out the White House’s website.

Look for a lime green and white box on the right side of the page. Once in, you are first presented with an instructional video.

“We the People provides you with a new way,” says a female voice-over, “to create and join petitions encouraging the Federal government to take action on a range of issues.”

by Joshua L. Durkin

 


 

ONE NEW INNOVATION in the direction of a better democracy puts people in direct contact with the White House through a petition program called “We the People“. Since its September 22, 2011 launch, the petition program has gone largely unnoticed, which should shock no one, because the smart bet figures that most Americans have not checked out the White House’s website.

Look for a lime green and white box on the right side of the page. Once in, you are first presented with an instructional video.

“We the People provides you with a new way,” says a female voice-over, “to create and join petitions encouraging the Federal government to take action on a range of issues.” She speaks in one of those too-friendly-and-helpful-to-be-real voices (think of female voice-overs in feminine hygiene commercials), but the video explains the process well.

“You only have eight hundred characters, so be clear and concise,” she says. Brevity can make an idea clear, but eight hundred characters, for most petitions, might not be enough. Most columns, after all, contain a little less than eight hundred words, and probably average something like 2,100 characters. Most petitions on the site seem to have struggled to even reach a hundred words.

 

“We the People provides you with a new way,” says a female voice-over, “to create and join petitions encouraging the Federal government to take action on a range of issues.”

 

The petitions are easily navigated because the design of the website is bright and minimal. You can view the petitions by title, choose and read a description of the petition, and decide whether to sign the digital roll on which your first name and last initial appears, along with the date signed.

The petition generation process feels and looks like blogging, and if you’ve posted on Facebook or even written an e-mail, you can handle this (although just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should). But if you’re just signing up to sign petitions, the process is not much different than “liking” a Facebook post–probably by design. The added exception, of course, is that the process has apparent official value and weight with the White House if the petition reaches the threshold of 25,000 signatures.

A few currently open petitions on We the People.The issues include closing Guantanamo Bay Prison, dismantling the Electoral College, and making it easier for foreigners with advanced degrees to get or renew green cards. The last one is particularly interesting because it just received an official response.

The White House has made forty-one responses to petitions. Last week a We the People petition made some news as having been part of many influences that caused the Obama Administration to reject the XL Pipeline Project in order to seek more information about its impact (likely the biggest effect a We the People petition has had thus far).

In addition to that little PR bump, a recent petition titled: “Investigate Chris Dodd and the MPAA for bribery after he publicly admited [sic] to bribing politicans [sic] to pass legislation,” attracted 27,000 signatures in just four days, and it only needed 25,000 in thirty days to receive official response.

Scrolling through the titles, most of the petitions appear centrist or liberal-leaning, which is not surprising because liberal minds seem to espouse technology with a bit more narcotic lust than other sets of people, but there are conservative petitions as well. There is also a petition about UFOs over Texas, and one that wants the “Python Ban” to be lifted.

 

A petition to investigate Chris Dodd attracted 27,000 signatures in just four days, and it only needed 25,000 in thirty days to receive official response.

 

The effectiveness of We the People will be determined by how many sign up for it and use it regularly—there is no way around that. There are over 300 million Americans, and the largest We the People petition as of this writing weighs in with just 32,000 signatures. The percentages are so small that they’re not worth running the math. However, the White House has responded forty-one times, but that’s also because they’ve set their bars rather low, requiring just 25,000 signatures to attend to an issue. That’s likely because all the administration promises is a review of the petition and that it will pass it on to the appropriate policy makers. There are no guarantees of change in this process.

Also, there are duplicate petitions, which is annoying, and a possible sign of what could happen if the rolls of the website really fatten and similar-sounding petitions flood in and nullify direct, concise petitions.

With that said, it is worth checking out and taking the site for a test drive, because the best countries to live in only work when people non-violently criticize how their countries are run.

 

by & filed under Science, Earth & Stars, Technology.